I found it quite mind-boggling when I totted up the books I’d read or listened to this summer (20ish), plus the films I watched (12) – what with knitting and all this entertainment, it must seem as if I do nothing else (which isn’t true!). And I’ve been keeping it up pretty well since I came home – perhaps that’s why I’ve not been blogging quite as much, since less screen time = more reading time! So here are some of the more remarkable…
On my mother’s recommendation https://catterel.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/must-read/ I read all three of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s early travel memoirs, “A Time of Gifts”, “Between the Woods” and (posthumous) “The Broken Road”. I’ve been enthusing about them ever since. Such beautiful writing, a sort of gourmet meal to gorge on. That such a young man, only 18 at the time, should embark on such a journey (walking from Rotterdam to Istanbul) and be so perceptive and ultimately knowledgeable with it, utterly fascinated me. I know he didn’t write it until much later, but surely he must have had a good foundation in history, geography and literature in order to appreciate his surroundings as he did at the time. Your average modern gap-year lad seems so tame in comparison! Add to that the charm of the 1930s and the fact that pre-war eastern Europe, in particular, was an area that today, we know so very little about and yet is actually closely connected to our classics histories. I came away feeling there was a whole world of ethnic and cultural history, geography and language I have little clue about and which made me very curious – a good sign?!
Following on from this, how could I resist reading Nick Hunt’s 2011 re-creation of the adventurous hike? “Walking in the Woods” describes the far more down-to-earth walk taken by this 30-year old, hemmed in by pollution and traffic and sadly, faced with a much more difficult situation in those countries which for so long remained behind the “iron curtain” and were forced into some form of dulled-down homogenous existence. Interesting though it was to read this, I came down to earth with a bump and can’t say I really enjoyed it – I found it all quite depressing, I’m not keen on change at the best of times. But it didn’t lessen my pleasure in Leigh Fermor’s books!
Have you heard of The Austen Project? If you are an Austenite, I’m sure you have – six popular modern authors are taking it upon themselves to rewrite six of Jane Austen’s famous books in a modern style (the website is not updated, unfortunately). The idea worried me a little. And after reading three, I still am not convinced they translate well. I couldn’t get on with Joanna Trollope’s “Sense and Sensibility” at all, and even the wonderful Alexander McCall-Smith managed to make “Emma” into a very long-winded and rather tedious story, to my dismay, though still “his” style. However, I must admit that I enjoyed Val McDermid’s “Northanger Abbey” much more – despite never having read anything else by her (too gory?!). Next up will be “Pride and Prejudice” by Curtis Sittenfeld, who I have never heard of, so I’m feeling more than a little anxious…
Let’s get more tedium over with – we persevered with the audiobook of Elizabeth Berg’s “The Dream Lover”, a romanticised life of 19th century French classic author George Sand (actually Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin de Francueil) told in the first person. I’m sure she was a fascinating and eccentric person – she was famous for wearing men’s clothes and was an early visitor to Mallorca with Fréderic Chopin – who later developed important political interests and her books were certainly best-sellers, but this repetitive story with its pathetic and soppy overtones just dragged on. It piqued my interest enough to find out more real information about this author, though. Maybe it reflects the style she wrote in and I’m not qualified in that respect?
As far as best-sellers go, I finally got around to Sarah Waters’ “The Paying Guests” which I found to be a gripping historical detective story, something I’d not expected from the book blurb. Set in the 1920s, when my granny was growing up, it brings up daringly sapphic relationships, mixing class and politics around a desperate crime and I did find it a gripping and satisfying read.
I have neither seen nor read “Gone Girl”, so can’t compare, but the media does so – this one is “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins and I did enjoy it very much. A bit of Bridget Jones meets Agatha Christie – perhaps enjoyed all the more because I haven’t seen as much hype as with the above-mentioned book. It begins rather slowly in chick-lit style but when it gets going, you have to read on and it’s pretty unexpected.
Moving on, to another genre I would call “nordic”, and not the thriller kind, in the style of the excellent “The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window” by Jonas Jonasson (another one which has been filmed, most successfully). A dry, witty, crisp way of writing that sticks in the throat a little, with protagonists who are not always nice, but is nevertheless very entertaining, I was delighted by “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backmann. Highly recommended! A story of neighbours and neighbourliness, and ultimately a very touching biography. Not Swedish but still in a similar vein, written by a Frenchman with strengths in English and Spanish, Romain Puértolas, “L’extraordinaire voyage du fakir qui était resté coincé dans une armoire Ikea” (The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe) is clever and funny, serious and very international, and somehow innocent – quite delightful. And fairly short. I can only hope the available translations do it justice.
Another character who is not all that pleasant and yet compels you to carry on reading is Martin Suter’s eccentric, Allmen – I’m sorry to see that this series is not translated into English so far, only available in German. But I will still include it. Martin Suter is a popular Swiss author of a number of prize-winning novels in German and now this series about a rather down-at-heel Swiss gentleman antique dealer (Johannes Friedrich von Allmen/Hans Fritz von Allmen…) who regularly gets into difficulties – and out of them again, with the help of his loyal valet-companion, Carlos. The one I read this summer was “Allmen und die Libellen”, and I will continue to read more of these as they appear (3 others waiting in line).
After rereading the James Bond books by Ian Fleming in the last couple of years, I have to say that William Boyd has done a great job in picking up the story with “Solo”. This one is set in 1969 and has an older, more modern Bond but without losing the charm and style – or cold streak, somehow – of the original. It rings very true (and ahem, a little anti-American!) and in line with the older novels and should be a “must” for anyone who values the old-fashioned contained excitement of the classic series. Not to mention that the latest Bond film, “Spectre” has just come out…
While we’re on crime, I would have to include the latest Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope, “The Moth Catcher”, spellbinding as ever if you love this awkward, no-nonsense detective as we do! Why is she so lovable, when she is so unlovable?! Ann Cleeves is excellent at bringing over the rough, northeastern English inspector and you “hear” her speaking as you read. I don’t even think that is because of the TV versions of these stories, starring Brenda Blethyn – who is very good but not quite as I imagine Vera! Also in my summer reading, “The Sleeping and the Dead”, another suspenseful detective story by the same auther. Ann Cleeves released “Offshore” only a year ago, too, which is a series of short stories that feature two of the popular detectives she’s created over the years, moving them on till the next bigger episodes appear. (This last is available as a very reasonably priced ebook.)
I read a couple of books that are hardly worth mentioning but then came across “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton (a first novel, I believe). I expected it to take me into a “Girl with a Pearl Earring” world, as it is set in 17th century Amsterdam, but it is darker, imaginative and a little bizarre. I found it quite a struggle in parts but all in all, the miniatures left a charming aftertaste. Perhaps that isn’t the right word, but it’s worth a try!
And finally, two more non-fiction works – the long and laborious “A Brief History of the Middle Ages” (Martyn Whittock), fascinating but so full of information you’d need to read or listen to it several times to keep up, similarly to “A Brief History of the Vikings” (Jonathan Clements) though I think we enjoyed the latter more – and yes, I’ve listened to it more than once! The amazing mythology can be somewhat soporific… Jacky Colliss Harvey has written “Red”, a history of the redhead, of which we (my daughter and I listened together while knitting!) were quite critical, perhaps unfairly. It is certainly an extremely interesting topic that investigates the fascination with the redheaded, their famed tempers and how society sees them, as well as some scientific blurb, but not all the claims sounded completely founded on newest research! However, definitely entertaining.
Have you read any of these or have I interested you in any of them?
(Most are also available as audiobooks if you like entertainment while you knit or drive or do the ironing!)